Saturday, 26 May 2012

In which I attempt to avoid a post title like "Bureaucracy and Defence Procurement: The Case of Canada"...

...which would probably be the Trifecta of Boring. I've already lost basically everyone foolish enough to read this. But seriously hold on, this matters.

As everyone knows, we were supposed to spend a Carl Sagan amount of money on the F-35 Lightning II, a plane that has the demerits of sucking and costing too much, but on the plus side comes armed with unintentionally hilarious music videos. So I wake up to find that the Conservative government is considering a new agency for military purchases at arm's length from National Defence. This has the right kind of image: a Responsible Government, well meaning but duped by clever pencil pushers in a broken administration that our heroes are now fixing. 

It is hard to know what to make of this. You don't do this sort of thing without signalling that somebody really screwed up. Even the most somnolent bureaucracy can bolt to its hind legs with the sudden manic, slavering energy of a coke-addled Rottweiler to defend its territory. Especially when the hound is a defense department, and the particular patch of turf in question is the one where it can dig up its tastiest chew toys. 

But we still may be buying the damn things. Maybe. Ah, who knows?

As for this new agency plan. The implication that it's all the bureaucrats' fault tempts me to language that would get me into serious trouble if I worked for a respectable publication. The government misled Canadians about the true cost of the fighter, and then ordered the RCMP to investigate the leaks on "national security" grounds that the Mounties could not bring themselves to buy. The Defence Minister claimed that it was standard practice not to include life-cycle costs, when in fact it was. Mr. MacKay told us, rather wonderfully, 
If you went out and bought a new minivan and it was going to cost you $20,000, you wouldn't calculate the gas, the washer fluid, the oil and give yourself a salary to drive it for the next 20 years.
 If nothing else, MacKay did buy himself a lot of attention from disreputable used-car salesmen.

Anyway, MacKay didn't improve his case by arbitrarily knocking 50 per cent off the cost of the Libya mission. Chump change compared to the Lightning-II, so why bother? I can only attribute that last bit of old Peter's bull to sheer force of habit.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Prosecutions and the LRA

The detention of Major General Caesar Acellam, apparently the fourth-senior commander in the Lord's Resistance Army, is major news. It's prompted Radkhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, to urge a prosecution. This is understandable: the LRA is a pretty terrible organization, and Acellam is no doubt responsible for some pretty terrible crimes, despite the fact that he is apparently not among those indicted by the ICC. However, the government of Uganda has also announced that Acellam is eligible to apply for amnesty. This would make him the most senior LRA official to be granted amnesty.

How would amnesty affect the ending of the conflict, the capture of Joseph Kony, and the dismantling of the LRA? Coomaraswamy argues that "The arrest and subsequent prosecution of Acellam would send a strong message to the LRA leadership that they will be held accountable for their actions." This is probably true. But to what end? Is it likely, for example, to induce them to commit fewer crimes in the meantime, for example? I find this unlikely, if only because if they do face prosecution for the crimes they've already committed--28 counts of crimes against humanity and 54 counts of war crimes between the four senior LRA commanders under ICC indictment--they face little hope of lighter sentences down the road. Interestingly, the one group that I could see this signal affecting in the way that Coomaraswamy intends is precisely not the senior LRA leadership, but lower-ranking officers not presently under indictment. 

Defense Minister Crispus Kiyonga has signalled that whether Acellam was captured or gave himself up will be an important consideration. As they should. Acellam was apparently taken with his wife, daughter and a helper, a rifle and eight rounds, separated from the rest of the LRA. He may have split from the remainder over a dispute. In addition, he has long been on a list of potential defectors after falling out with Kony over making peace with Kampala--though Ugandan officials apparently deny that they'd been in talks with Acellam over his defection. But even in the scenario in which he had not intended to defect, but merely to hide, means that prosecuting Acellam sends a signal to remaining senior LRA personnel that they need to stay with the group, which has for so long successfully evaded capture. Deserting the LRA becomes less of an option. 

Here, we might be seeing an instance of a more general problem: the inability to make a credible commitment may keep wars running longer than they need to. It's not obvious that amnesty is an automatic solution to this difficulty. It's associated with greater postwar instability and a higher likelihood of resumption of civil war, for example; exile seems to work more effectively.

The very difficulty of tracking down Kony suggests another reason to consider amnesty: plea bargaining. Malcolm Webb argues that intelligence from defectors and captured LRA members has proven more effective than electronic surveillance or other high-tech methods, and that Acellam could prove to be an invaluable resource--if he talks. Amnesty may give him reason to do so.

Ultimately, then, Defense Minister Kiyonga's stated approach--"Let's wait. We assess each (amnesty) case on its merit. We are waiting for him to arrive and then we will take a cool-headed decision"--seems about right to me. Too much is unknown, and I find Coomaraswamy to be rushing to a recommendation.

One way or another, I don't think that my arguments, or Coomaraswamy's, or those of any other commentator deserve more consideration than the opinions of the people of northern Uganda. There are enough outside agendas at work in the LRA conflict that it's problematic for anyone to claim the final word. But there is a pretty strong case, here, for keeping amnesty on the table.

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Sequel?

It is nice to see that Gen. John Allen, the supreme allied commander in Afghanistan, is thinking in terms of Afghanistan in 1989. I argued last month that the dangers Afghanistan faces in keeping its security forces stable and loyal suggest a scenario rather like the Soviet withdrawal. The article doesn't put any real meat on the bones of this analogy, though. I wonder what it means in effective terms: probably a clear awareness of the need for continued international contributions. We'll see how that goes in Chicago. The idea of turning over more control earlier to catch problems as they arise is interesting and nicely empirical, relying on evidence rather than assumptions about how things are going to shape up. But I would think that the way that ANSF units behave with a significant on-the-ground ISAF presence is likely to differ substantially from the way they'll behave after 2014, when the backstop isn't as strong.